Two years ago, at the end of the summer of 2009, I wrote a post called “Running and Maturity in the Church.” Margaret (my wife) and I had decided to train to run in a 5k race, mainly to get in shape. It didn’t work out for several reasons. But, getting back into running as exercise helped me understand something about spiritual gifts. I hope you enjoy this post.
Last Summer, my wife Margaret and I decided to walk together in the mornings. I learned alot about community during our walks together (see my post “Walking Together“).
This Summer, we tried to walk together again. For some reason, we were having a difficult time remaining motivated. Some friends decided that they were going to start training for a marathon in February. I’m not ready to commit to a marathon, but I decided to start training for a 5k in October. (You probably know this already if you follow me on Twitter or read my Facebook status updates.)
So, last week, Margaret and I began training for the 5k. The difference between our 5k training and our walking last summer is that we have to run some for our 5k training. Eventually, we will only run. But, of course, we’re not ready for that yet.
When I was in middle school (we called it junior high school) and high school, I could run long distances. But, years and years of sitting behind a computer screen has taken a toll on my body. I need this exercise and I need to get back in shape, so I’m excited about the prospects. Plus, I’m more motivated now that I have a specific goal: the 5k in only a few weeks, and perhaps a 1/2 marathon in February if everything goes well.
But, I’ve learned something about the body over the last few days that I think is applicable to the church as the body of Christ. When I started running, I realized that my body is not in shape to do what it needs to do. However, it wasn’t every part of my body that was holding me back.
My arms were working just fine, and if I left it up to my arms, I could run for long distances. Similarly, my eyes and ears and nose were very happy to keep running long after I had to stop.
Surprisingly, even my legs and feet were able to carry be farther than I expected. Yes, my legs – especially my calves – would be tired after running. However, if I left everything up to my legs, I could have kept running longer.
But, my lungs would not allow me to run any longer. My breathing is not where it needs to be to be able to run long distances. Therefore, right now, I’m training my lungs and breathing as much as – and perhaps more than – I’m training my legs.
It is very interesting to me that my lungs are hidden from sight. I can’t see them, and they don’t appear to be very important from an outward perspective. But, unless my breathing capacity increases, I won’t be able to run for long distances.
I could spend hours exercising my legs and arms, my chest and abs, but unless I exercise my lungs, I will not be able to do what I need to do.
This reminded me to two specific passages in Scripture dealing with the church. First, consider this passage from 1 Corinthians:
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:18-27 ESV)
It is obvious that every part of the body of Christ is important – even those parts that may be less noticeable and may seem less important. In fact, according to Paul, these parts are even more important than we think because God has given those parts greater honor.
Second, consider this passage from Ephesians 4:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)
According to this passage, the body grows (matures) when every part of the body is allowed to do its own work – when every part of the body is allowed to do what it is designed to do. We are not the same, but we need each other. From the negative perspective, if one part of the body is not “working properly”, then the body will not mature.
In my illustration from running, if I exercise my legs, arms, chest, etc. then those parts of my body will get stronger, but my body as a whole will not. The church is to be concerned with the maturity of the whole body, not just with their own maturity.
There are times when I need to stop exercising before my legs or arms are completely tired in order to allow my lungs to grow in capacity. There are times when those “more presentable” parts of the church should allow the “less presentable” to work, even if the “more presentable” could “do a better job”. Why? Because by allowing the “less presentable” parts to work, then the whole body is allowed to grow in maturity.
By the way, I’ve also found that when I allow my lungs to dictate how much I can run, my legs actually get a good workout. Those of us in the church who are more “noticeable” may (ummm… will) find that even we grow and learn when we allow the “less noticeable” to do the work. In fact, it is worth it to our own growth and the growth of the body for us to shut up occasionally and to encourage others to speak or serve instead – as long as we’re willing to listen and learn from them.